The energy in a nearly empty space at the corner of 7th Avenue and 19th Street in Ybor City is palpable as Black & Denim’s Roberto Torres, Buddy Brew Coffee’s Susan Ward and Ty Beddingfield, and TeBella’s Abigail StClair eagerly discuss plans for a wholly unique destination concept designed to inspire visitors.
The restored brick building, built around 1905, will be home to The Blind Tiger Cafe
come Fall, a coffee and tea cafe whose menu is inspired by the Cuban, Italian and Spanish influences in Ybor City’s history. Drink selections will include hot and cold-brewed coffee along with choices like Caramelo Frito (cold caramel) and Cafe Miel (honey coffee).
Buddy Brew Coffee
and TeBella Tea Company
will provide the goods; Torres will train staff to run the expensive espresso and tea machines. Tea and coffee tastings and training classes for the public may also be offered.
The Blind Tiger coffee and tea bar will be flanked on either side by a small co-working space
that Torres will run, and a boutique of Black & Denim
clothing and accessories, unannounced and unadvertised.
“It’s almost like a speakeasy concept,” Torres says. “People will make their way here and discover it organically.”
The mixed-use idea began with Randy Rosenthal and Tona Bell, who run creative marketing firm Tricycle Studios
in the upstairs office space at 1905 E. 7th Ave.
They heard that the storefront downstairs was available, and between a high-end paper store concept of Bell’s and Rosenthal’s desire to host a coffee and tea bar, a seed was planted.
Although the paper good store is now likely to open in Hyde Park rather than Ybor City, the mixed-use concept survived.
Enter Torres, whose Black & Denim apparel company previously had a boutique storefront
in Ybor City and who wanted to set up shop there again.
“Randy and Roberto have a nice collaborative synergy and vision,” Bell says. “The paper concept and tea and coffee bar really compliment each other.”
A Community Movement, A Community Space
Visitors will enter via the boutique clothing and accessories section of the space at the corner of 19th and 7th. They can also walk directly into The Blind Tiger at 1901 E. 7th Ave. via a centrally located door one room over. Next door at 1903 E. 7th Ave., a third set of doors will lead into the room that is to become a co-working space with seating for around 30 people and, potentially, a small conference room.
When it comes to logistics, everyone involved pitches ideas and lends experiences. The storeowners offer suggestions about where to house the cafe’s bar, the bathrooms, the boutique. Tea doesn’t need as much space behind the bar as coffee, it turns out.
Rosenthal and Bell own the parking lot behind the building, “which is rare in Ybor City,” Bell says. There has already been discussion about hosting food trucks out back once the businesses’ doors open.
A blank slate of dark blue carpeting and white retractable walls once filled the space that the coffee and tea bar will occupy. That’s where Andrew Watson from Built
(the company who recently did the tables for Ulele
), and designer Charlie Schiller from Schiller’s Architectural Salvage
come in. The space will be completely reinvented before opening, and the idea of “antique-y, collected pieces” is discussed.
“Everything about this space is non-traditional. We would only do something traditional if we had to,” says Beddingfield. “Otherwise, let’s blow it up and work it out from there!”
A creative vibe permeates the discussion. Everyone is excited about the prospect of a unique, mixed-use space.
Back in the 1990s, when Ybor City‘s main drag was a hub for artists instead of bars, the brick building was home to Ovo Cafe, run by Hoffman Porges Gallery
Founder Marcie Hoffman Porges
“Art was at the hub of the east end of Ybor,” says Rosenthal. Perhaps it will be again.
Cowork Ybor and The Blind Tiger Cafe are expected to open in late September 2014.
Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who can usually be found walking her dog in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting @JustineinTampa, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.